When you hear someone say they were born and raised in Lake Tahoe, you might imagine a childhood full of exploring the surrounding mountains and alpine lakes. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Children from underserved communities in Tahoe often miss out on opportunities and lack access to connect with the outdoor environment.
Generation Green, a program run by the USDA Forest Service – Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), creates opportunities for these local high school students through a summer of working and learning in the forest. In a typical year, Generation Green crews are mentored by Forest Service personnel over eight weeks. The students develop a variety of career skills, build leadership experience, and gain the confidence of making a difference in the world.
But 2020 is no typical year. When the world sheltered-in-place, it seemed impossible to run a successful program in 2020. As meetings, conferences, happy hours all went virtual, Generation Green did too. The question became, how do you encapsulate an eight-week backcountry program into an online format? The answer, you don’t. Recognizing that an eight-week Zoom course isn’t very appealing to students, the program was condensed into two weeks.
To keep this online program compelling, the Forest Service got creative. Members from four California National Forests collaborated to give participants an in-depth look at the diverse forest ecosystems and careers across the state. The program was made possible with funding generously provided by Friends of the Angeles Forest and California Consortiums. Despite the extensive modifications, students appreciated the experience. “It was so much fun to meet a whole bunch of people that were also in the program this year,” said Bella Munson from South Lake Tahoe. “Also, getting to learn more about the Forest Service and all the jobs in it was super cool.”
To honor each of the participants, donors from the Tahoe Fund teamed up with REI Co-op to deliver new hiking boots to each participant. Having supported Generation Green over many years, Tahoe Fund was thrilled to help support the students who completed the virtual 2020 program. “We absolutely love this program and the way it introduces a new generation of students to the work of the Forest Service and to the outdoors, “ said Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry. “We hope they will lace up their new boots and start putting their new skills to use on trails.”
Generation Green and the LTBMU are hoping to run a regular eight-week program in 2021, and the students can’t wait. When asked if he would participate next year, Ngoc Nyguen said, “Of course, I can’t wait to gain more experience for myself. My little brother might join next year.” Since its founding in 2008, 95 percent of participants in the Generation Green program have continued on to higher education, and six graduates are now permanent Forest Service employees.